The Covid-19 pandemic may have brought with it a colourful palette of mental diseases, emotional traumas, family breakdowns and fascinating new cholesterol readings, but you can also argue that the lockdown it forced upon us gave us new perspectives too. We discovered, amongst other things, that work from home is a damn sight more attractive than work from a cubicle, that schools prevent infanticide and that access to Netflix should be enshrined in the Bill of Human Rights. But, more interestingly, it also gave us a new outlook on the notion of excess.
Excess, you see, has always been seen as a lack of moderation: too much of this, a surfeit of that and the consumption of more than you should be allowed. Excess was the life of Charles Bukowski, the Rolling Stones in hotel rooms, the Lebanese Sunday meal and the American standard for the size of pizza. But as it turned out, this definition was completely beside the point. Excess, we discovered, is not in the extremes: excess is in the middle.
You see, we have always been conditioned to the notion that too much of a good thing is sinful when, in fact, evil lies in too much of the unnecessary. That’s because the consumption society was not built on yachts, Ibiza summers and binge-watching. Its true centre of gravity sat in the superfluous and its disposability.
This is where negative excess thrives. We buy toys with a lifespan that doesn’t exceed minutes, we upgrade electronics for performance increments that are largely irrelevant, we dump clothes at the whim of influencers and replace what we could actually repair. It all sits in that large space that exists between necessity and pleasure, and delivers neither, except for a little burst of dopamine, soon replaced by irritation.
A quick calculation will tell you that the largest part of household expenditure does not lie in the holiday, the spa weekend or, indeed in the supermarket basics. It is actually in the superfluous disposables that end up either in the trash or in that forgotten heap in the garage. What the new perspective tells us is that, in these times of financial strain, we should be cutting back on neither the essentials nor those joyful, occasional excesses that give us joy, satisfaction and bragging rights. We should be slashing the expendable tripe that blights and clutters up our lives instead. Considering the gigantic body of disposable, unnecessary, superfluous and unnoticeable advertising communications out there, it is a lesson that brands would do well to learn.